In Melbourne‘s Fitzroy suburb, Austin Maynard Architects breathes new life into Helvetia House, transforming it into a serene “sanctuary” for a medical couple. The residence, a double-story Victorian terrace, had been separated into two dwellings in the late 1960s to operate as a boarding house and reconfigured again in the mid-1980s into a three-bedroom apartment at ground level and a one-bedroom with a large studio on the first floor.
Muddled, confused, dark, and in a sad state of disrepair, the challenge for Austin Maynard Architects was to resurrect the Helvetia House. In removing two rooms (above and below) from the dilapidated center of the building and utilizing the side laneway, Helvetia has been transformed into a light-filled family home, with multiple gardens, a flexible floor plan, a central entryway, and dramatic sunlit atrium.
Helvetia is a considered, detailed and dynamic ‘before and after’ project. An exercise in making the most of what you have, in ego restrain and in focusing on the fundaments of sustainability, predominantly ‘Reuse’. Rather than opt for the standard heritage response, keeping the frontage and demolishing everything beyond, the pratice found there were no serious cracks or structural damage to the rear extension. It wasn’t pretty but it didn’t need to go. Instead, they chose to use the existing brick fabric and work with the skin they had.
Like most Victorian terrace houses, Helvetia was gloomy with dark corridors and internalised rooms. The resurrection required major surgery, from the inside out. Internally most of the dividing walls were removed to open up the areas with sliding doors and curtains to offer flexibility of use and function. Future-proofed for circumstantial changes in years to come.
One of the rare occurrences where the client was happy to take away the floor area, the architects completely removed the repeatedly problematic rotten core and created a substantial lightwell through the middle of the house. The vertical expanse of open space introduces a flood of natural light, while fixed timber awnings control the western and northern sun.
Internally most of the dividing walls were removed to open up the areas with sliding doors and curtains to offer flexibility of use and function. Future-proofed for circumstantial changes in years to come. All internal finishes were renewed throughout, a new concrete slab with hydronic heating was poured into the open-plan living/dining/ kitchen, and all existing windows were replaced with thermally efficient double glazing. The original large bay window in the main bedroom upstairs was also retained and restored. A large balcony terrace off the main bedroom was reimagined and at the rear of the site is the addition of a large (possum-proof) productive garden, with shed and carport beneath.
The owners asked the planning theme to convert their house into a single dwelling to make their dark and uncomfortable home more livable. Their hope was to obtain a “sanctuary” in the city center, in stark opposition to their “sterile working environment.” In beautiful contrast to its urban location, the owners cross a bridge over a pond filled with water lilies and fish to reach their bright, thoughtful and joyfully resurrected new home. “Our sanctuary has been created and the effect on our lives has been profound,” they say. “Our project has come to fruition in ways we never imagined and are still discovering.”